INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Peyton Manning did some extra work Monday night.
He threw a lead block. He ran for a first down, and he kept the Colts’ makeshift offense chugging along as the Colts got past Houston 30-17.
So just like that, the defending AFC champs are back on top of the AFC South.
“Whoever’s in there has to somehow find a way to do the job. It’s not always going to be pretty or perfect, but you’ve just got to keep grinding,” Manning said. “That’s kind of the word we use. Just keep grinding and trying to make some plays.”
Manning has made his share of plays over the years, and his latest effort certainly was no different.
Though the Colts (5-2) were missing All-Pro tight end Dallas Clark, receiver Austin Collie and running back Joseph Addai with injuries, Manning made sure his teammates didn’t miss a beat.
Mike Hart ran for a career-high 84 yards and barely missed scoring his second career touchdown. Jacob Tamme, similar to Hart making his first career start, caught six passes for 64 yards and his first career touchdown.
Manning, meanwhile, went 26 of 45 for 268 yards with two TDs.
But it wasn’t just the new guys making plays — or only the offense.
Reggie Wayne caught a touchdown pass. Manning rushed for a first down for the first time in nearly two years, then threw the lead block on a first-down catch-and-run by Pierre Garcon in the third quarter.
“It was a screen, and Pierre has that ability to cut back,” Manning said. “I think Pierre really did all the work. Let’s take it for what it really was — it was a good run.”
But that’s how important Monday’s game was to the Colts, who evened the seasons series with Houston (4-3).
Indy’s defense repeatedly pressured Houston quarterback Matt Schaub and forced him into a series of mistakes including an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
The louder-than-normal crowd created problems for Schaub hearing play calls, barking out signals to teammates, and just trying to make plays. The 2009 NFL leader in yards passing finished a horrible first half 5 of 15 for 37 yards with one interception and a rating of 14.6 as he tried to dodge defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. They still combined for three sacks.
Schaub was better in the second half, finishing 22 of 38 for 201 yards with one TD. But the damage was already done.
“In the first half, we didn’t do a thing. We dug ourselves a hole,” Schaub said. “It’s a hole you don’t want to be in to any team in this league, especially with this team and the defense they have.”
The Colts took control quickly.
Manning took them 78 yards on the second series, throwing a 2-yard TD pass to Tamme to make it 7-0.
On the second play of the second quarter, the maligned defense gave Indy the play it desperately needed. Kelvin Hayden jumped in front of Kevin Walter, picked off Schaub’s pass and sprinted 25 yards to make it 14-0.
“It was a huge part in the game,” Colts linebacker Gary Brackett said. “Obviously, a big momentum swing for us. Great play by him, great read, finishing the deal, catching that ball, scoring.”
Neil Rackers banked in a 53-yard field goal to get Houston within 14-3 with 12 minutes to go in the half, but that was merely a speed bump for Manning.
He took them 36 yards, running off nearly all of the half’s final six minutes before Adam Vinatieri booted a season-long 48-yard field goal to make it 17-3 at halftime.
Manning didn’t stop there.
After converting a third-and-10 early in the second half, Manning threw a screen pass to the right to Garcon, who cut all the way across the field and followed No. 18 for a 14-yard gain and a first down.
Four plays later, Manning took the more conventional route by throwing a flanker screen to Wayne, who sprinted 15 yards to make it 24-3.
It was that kind of night for the Texans, who got a 30-yard TD pass from Schaub to Andre Johnson and a 6-yard TD run from Arian Foster to make it 27-17 early in the fourth quarter.
That was as close as the Texans got.
“It was a collective effort of mishaps,” Johnson said after hurting his right ankle on the TD catch. “Everybody was taking turns making mistakes. We had mental lapses, when you have those things, you’re not going to win.”
Manning made sure of it.
Notes: Former Colts coach Tony Dungy was inducted into the team’s ring of honor at halftime. He received a standing ovation and hugged Indy president Bill Polian when highlights of their Super Bowl title were shown. … Houston dropped to 2-16 against the Colts and is 0-9 at Indy. … Texans left tackle Duane Brown gave up a sack in the first quarter to Dwight Freeney after returning from a four-game suspension for violating the league’s banned substance policy. … Hart will have an MRI on his injured ankle.